Make your home wheelchair accessible

Make living at home easier for seniors

By Allan Britnell

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A Kitchen Within Reach

Cooking can be a daunting task when fragile plates and cups seem just out of reach, reserve pantry goods are in the back of cupboards or downstairs in the basement, and you’re always worrying that you’ve left cooking appliances on.

Making the senior chef feel more comfortable in the kitchen may require a major remodelling, but it should make the difference between self-sufficiency and needing extra help.

Start by considering the kitchen lighting. If you don’t already have them, install under-cabinet lights (1) or focused task lighting. You don’t have to be a senior to appreciate being able to see the food you’re preparing. If the new lighting requires electrical work, you should also consider relocating electrical outlets and light switches at the same time, moving them to where they’re easier to reach (2).

Choose contrasting colours, such a white enamelled sink basin set into a dark countertop, to help those with poor vision distinguish between the two, even from a distance.

To make accessing shelves easier, kitchen cabinets (3) can be mounted on brackets that raise and lower them ($2,000 to $3,000) or tilt them out for wheelchair access. These units have built-in sensors to stop them if people or objects get in the way. While they can support up to 200 kg (441 lbs.), rearrange the cupboards so the heaviest and most-used items are in the lower cabinets. Glass doors make it easy to see what’s where, and large D-shaped handles (4) are easy to grab.

As in the bathroom, knee space below the sink (5) is essential for wheelchair users, and long-levered handles (6) on the sink make the taps easy to use. Like the cabinets, this counter ($2,500 to $3,500) is motorized to raise and lower to a convenient height for the person who’s using it (7). One nice feature is the electrical outlet at the front of the counter. A pullout shelf (8) offers a handy workspace while seated.

Countertop appliances that shut off automatically (9) can reduce the risk of accidents if forgetfulness is an issue. Ovens can also be modified to turn off after a set period of time.

Look for appliance models that are elder-friendly, such as side-by-side refrigerator/freezers (10) and ovens with controls at the front (11), so there’s no need to reach over hot elements to adjust the heat.

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